So what did I think of Salt Lake City?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Different by Nature" that's the motto of Salt Lake City. Indeed after my very brief trip, I was so impressed with this city, I have added it to my Top 10 list of cities to visit or return. So many unexpected and pleasant  (except one) surprises, I was heartbroken I could not spend more time. There were a number of free tours and free transportation. Then I saw gangsters and cowboys getting married! Then I get into a duel with a certain woman and end up with bloody nose. Read on!

The purpose of my trip was for personal and professional growth. I attended Blog Paws, a conference for pet bloggers to enhance efforts for my new dream, a nonprofit organization to help homeless pets.

First, I made sure to arrive the night before the conference so I had half a day to explore. What was I thinking. Half a day? This city has so much to offer! My hotel was ideally located in downtown, and it reminded me of Miami--a small big city. I was minutes away from visiting the Mormon temple grounds, museums and galleries, from sampling endless dining and shopping options, from attending a Broadway musical or symphony...There's so much more to discover. Nestled at the base of the Wasatch Range, one is so close to streams and trails to hike and bike.  City and nature are neighbors that live in harmony. What was most impressive was the cleanliness of the entire city especially downtown. No trash, litter or graffiti.

NO GPS Needed
Salt Lake city is so well planned, you don't really need GPS. The city is built on a grid, and there's public transit everywhere. Buses, light rail (TRAX) and high-speed rail (Front Runner) can convey you throughout Salt Lake City and around the Wasatch Front. Fares to ride TRAX and local buses are $2.25 one way $4.50 round trip or $5.50 all day. However in downtown, is a free-fare zone for both the train and buses. Yes free!

The day was glorious and weatherpersons warned of a 97 degree high temperature. Wow! That's hotter than Miami, or so I thought. No worries for this Miami girl, my wardrobe is full of light, airy sundresses.

So I walked three blocks from my hotel to catch the TRAX. After about seven minutes, I hopped off at the stop outside the Temple grounds.What greeted me was something out of a painting. The tall, clean line buildings and the rows of colorful flower beds--it all looked new! But it wasn't. Just very well kept by volunteers.  A recurring theme during my two hour visit to Temple grounds which explains a lot.

There are several buildings open to the public with FREE tours offered by volunteer tour guides.

Immediately I thought of my mother. How a green-thumb hobbyist like her would have fallen in love
My mother toiled in gardens most of her adult life until a fall signaled her to sell her house and move to a condominium with elevators and no stairs and no gardens to tend to. Gardening was a labor of love.

 So upon walking through one gate I inquired at the information booth about the various tours. Apparently I just missed the "garden tour" by half an hour. If only I did a little research and planning. However, the volunteer at the booth explained she could have two sisters (Mormon sisters--that is how they refer to fellow women of the same religion) take me on a general tour and talk about the gardens.

The sisters, walked out in very humble blouses and long skirts. To be truthful, I felt under dressed and half naked in my short and bra less sundress. Not because of how the sisters were dressed, but because for me it did not feel hot in the direct  97 degree sun! Mother Nature and I were at odds. The air was so dry that later I experienced nose bleeds. I missed the Miami humidity! Can you believe that? But one older woman complimented my dress and told me I wore it well. Relief set in.  Nothing was going to spoil this beautiful visit.

The sisters, while they didn't know the names or types of the flowers still offered a couple of fascinating facts about these endless gardens.  One, they are replanted 16 times a year by volunteers from the age of 12 to 18. From a young age, the Church of Latter Day Saints teaches young people a work ethic and the  importance of contributing or giving back through their skills. It is no wonder that as a community, Salt Lake City prospered quickly as an outcast group. Second, the gardens are considered "rooftop" located just above a heated garage below. So that's where all the non-volunteers that work in the various buildings park their vehicles. Genius!

As I continued following the sisters, we came upon the administration building as seen in the below photo on the left. The first church office was built in 1853 and all records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths are stored there. This is very important as I would assume, this determines if you are a Mormon, the only people that can enter the Temple. Non Mormons are not permitted. My second assumption is that if Mormons tithe, (offer one tenth or ten percent of their harvest or in contemporary times, their income) this is where the contributions are tracked and recorded.

Once I thanked the sisters I continued on my own to absorb and revel in this serenity and beauty. Then the Temple appeared like a shiny beacon in the distance. Near me were a wedding party posing for photos.

The red, white and 1930's theme was fun and festive and caught me by surprise. To be honest I was sensing a gangster theme.  I had assumed the religion was strict  and would not permit deviations from the white and black. Well the bride is wearing white. Looks like groom and groomsmen have total freedom in deciding their attire. Hmm I wonder if brides can wear other colors?

As I meandered on the grounds heading towards the temple that grew larger, more ominous, I saw one, two, three, 20 different wedding parties.  The Temple performs over 50 wedding ceremonies a day! Even more in the summertime. Couples and close friends and family members travel from all over the country and the world to celebrate their wedding at the capital of Mormonism.

At various outdoor entrances, wedding families posed for group photos before entering the temple.  This one caught my attention where the groom and his toddler son are wearing cowboy hats! I soon learned there are a number of ceremony rooms inside the temple.

My next stop was the Beehive house, also the home of Brigham Young, the prophet. Two sisters greeted me inside the house and two other sisters were the tour guides. Another free tour.

Beehive House
(home to Brigham Young, prophet or leader of Church of Latter Day Saints)

Something else that was hard to miss. Each sister always carried two books. The Bible and the Book of Mormon.
The house was built in in 1889 and Brigham Young had arrived from Illinois with only a bible, the book of Mormon, a dictionary and tools. Faith and hard work would  provide them shelter and sustenance. Sure enough it did. This is why the home is referred to as the Beehive house and has a plaster beehive affixed to the rooftop. The beehive is symbolic of industrious work.

The sisters explained that a person is designated a "prophet" to teach about Jesus Christ, just like in the Old Testament, and mentioned Moses as one of the well known prophets.  Brigham Young started as an apostle of Joseph Smith who was a prophet.  Later Brigham Young was the chosen prophet to lead the church.

The house was beautifully decorated. We learned that some of the more specialized work from furniture making to artistic designs were all contributions from fellow (Mormon) brothers and sisters. They were a community that regularly worked hard and helped their neighbor. This was truly impressive.

Music Room

Living Room

I had expected more austere and humble furnishings. My preconceived notions were far from the truth. If community members came together and offered their specialty skills, and this is the home of the leader of the church, then it only makes sense his home would have the finest furniture and decor.

When I asked how many children Brigham Young bore, the sisters answered that no one knows for sure. He had at least 17 children but possibly more. About seven children lived in this house, others lived next door.

After the tour, next door was the Lion House which now serves as an iconic restaurant known for their homemade recipes especially the bread and buns. It was recommended to eat in the outdoor patio, but unfortunately it was closed for a wedding reception but the meal was palatable and definitely homemade. Since I was on vacation with no time to exercise, I chose the grilled chicken instead of the caloric chicken pie. Delicious.

Lion House
(formerly a house, now a restaurant)
My free time was ticking fast and I scurried through one of two visitor's centers. So much to see, learn and admire! There was a model of the Temple with one side cut open like a doll house to give outsiders a view of the various rooms and chambers and their purpose. Unfortunately, my time was up and I could not stay for the free tour!

As I headed out of the gates, a most spectacular and gracious host loomed and bid me well--the Mormon Temple.

The Latter-day Saints labored with faith for 40 years to build a new temple.  A flawed initial foundation, the arrival of federal troops in 1858, and the building of railroads from 1868 to 1873 caused major delays.  Severe winters, plagues, extreme poverty, the lack of effective shipping methods, and the demands of harvest and further settlement also slowed construction. But despite these difficulties, the Saints continued their labors and completed the temple in 1893.

The above quote was an inscription in the visitor's museum. As I exited the grounds, I felt inspired and received affirmation. While I may be Catholic, both religions have much in common. And so I felt a connection and received a message. At a difficult crossroads in my life, where I was currently without a day job and regular income, I had made a tough decision. To pursue my dream to grow my small business. It would not be easy. Hurdles, disappointments and long hard work awaited me. But this is nothing new for me--that was my advantage. It is a familiar road. More importantly, I received an acknowledgement that I embraced wholeheartedly. For many years now, whether I was unemployed or living well,  I was volunteering. I was giving back. The Mormons don't just preach about service, they live it everyday. Such a wonderful example. I realized if everyone gave back just a little regularly, this world would be a much happier place. My blood, sweat and tears to help homeless animals is not without its rewards. While I may not see it now, God's grace will reveal itself in time. I am so thankful for all that I have and feel truly blessed for my family, my health, and the freedom of this country to realize my dreams.

Thank you Salt Lake City! I'll be back!

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  1. I loved reading your blog!! You are such a beautiful young woman with such great thoughts. My best friend is currently serving a mission at Temple Square. She will only be there one more year (till fall of 2014). If you have a chance, go visit Salt Lake again, ask for tours from Sister Ellis (you might need to call ahead). Her testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is beautiful and flawless as she not only believes in Christ, but she follows Him as well. I think you would enjoy hearing more:)